Monday 15 January 2024

Scanner - The Cosmic Race (2024)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Jan 2024
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I remember Scanner from their excellent debut album, Hypertrace, back in 1988. They're another of many German heavy/power metal bands but they're one of the first, because they started out in 1977 as Reinforce, changing to Lions Breed in 1982—who released one album—and eventually Scanner in 1986. However, this is only their seventh studio album, for reasons I can't fully explain. As far as I can tell, they've never actually split up, though they have completely changed the line-up behind founder guitarist Axel Julius more than once.

They just took long breaks, I think, so this arrives no fewer than nine years after The Judgement, which showed up thirteen years after Scantropolis. I haven't heard those two, but this only seems like a strong release to make up for lost time for a few tracks, perhaps until Warriors of the Light three songs in. After that, it's still decent, but it loses the sort of strength it needed to keep fans happy after so many years.

Initially, it's great. The Earth Song doesn't reach Warp 7 speeds, the track which opened up their debut, but it's an agreeably fast one. I actually remember Scanner being faster than they are, on the basis of tracks like that one. In 1988, thrash metal was my go to genre with speed metal right behind it, so I'd have eaten up songs like Warp 7, even if the rest of the album was a tad slower, in more of a power metal style. I'm all for that pace in 2024 too, but The Earth Song has more going for it than just speed. There's also a tasty guitar opening and a neat chanting section late on.

Just like their debut, things slow down after that but I'm more open to that now than I was then. Face the Fight is a real anthem of a song, high energy power metal with a hook-laden chorus that we're singing along with on our first time through. Warriors of the Light follows suit, maybe a tad less effectively because of a weaker midsection, but still very effective indeed. At this point, I was totally sold on this new Scanner, but they can't quite maintain that sort of stellar opening.

I say this new Scanner, because it's another mostly new line-up. Julius is still there, of course, as he has been throughout. Greek vocalist Efthimios Ionannidis is the only other member who's been in the band long enough to have performed on their prior album, having joined in 2003. Bassist Jörn Bettentrup is six years into his run with the band, but this is his first recording with them. Second guitarist Dominik Rothe and drummer Sascha Kurpanek arrived in 2023, presumably as a package deal, given that they've both played for Marauder and Taskforce Toxicator.

I should add that both those bands play thrash so I'd say that this material must feel slow to Rothe and Kurpanek, even with a few fast sections here and there, like the opener to Scanner's Law. It's fair to say that there are a number of points where the latter is the fastest aspect to the band, on that song particularly. Of course, I wish they'd speed up a bit more in general, but they play power metal well. Nothing quite matches Face the Fight in the anthemic chorus department, but a bunch of other tracks do try, Scanner's Law among them.

Others fall a little short for me. Dance of the Dead has its moments, but it doesn't seem to be too sure about what it wants to be. It starts out with a Dio vibe, before finding another big chorus, but there's some grind in between the verses. Each section works, but they don't all work together. A New Horizon kicks off with some lovely guitar, turning an Outlaws-esque riff into a layered power metal setup, but it falls into routine. It's the song I wanted to speed up the most, even if I liked its slower guitar. I liked the folk vibe midway through closer The Last and First in Line but the rest of the song around it isn't quite as enticing.

The most frustrating song is Space Battalion, again one that moves through a number of sections that all work individually but somehow not together. The reason for the frustration is that it kicks off relying on a rather well known riff that's lifted from Megadeth's Symphony of Destruction. It isn't quite the same, and it's a much busier song around that riff, but it's so recognisable that I'm singing along with Dave Mustaine before I realise that he's not there.

If I'm sounding acutely negative here, I don't mean to. I enjoyed this album and it's great to hear something new from Scanner. I remember Hypertrace and enjoyed its follow-up, Terminal Earth in 1989, but I don't believe I've heard the four albums in between that pair and this one. I should, not least because of the variance in line-ups. It seems that at least one of them had a female vocalist. However, it promises much for three neatly different tracks and the rest of the album simply can't live up to that promise.

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